NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's powerful military commander pledged Friday to work to support successful elections in November, calling it "an important landmark for democracy implementation," and warned that the army will not tolerate instability or armed threats.
This year's elections will be the first to be held by the semi-civilian government that swept to power after a 2010 vote widely seen as rigged in favor of the military-backed rulers.
"The general election which is going to be held in the early days of November 2015 represents an important landmark of democracy implementation of our country," Commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech to more than 10,000 troops at a big ceremony marking Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the day the army rose up against Japanese occupiers during World War II some 70 years ago.
"Any disturbance to stability of the state and prevalence of law, any armed pressure or any threats for voting won't be allowed in the general election," he said.
But critics say that even under the best circumstances it will be difficult to view the upcoming polls as free or fair. The constitution guarantees the army 25 percent of all parliamentary seats and other special political powers. And the most popular politician, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for presidency because her late husband and sons are foreign citizens.
Meanwhile, the government has been unable to reach a conclusive peace agreement with armed ethnic minority groups fighting in border regions. And members of the long persecuted Rohingya population — labeled by the government as illegal migrants -- will most likely not be allowed to vote.
Army chief also said the Myanmar army is "risking the lives and limbs" of its military officers and troops to achieve stability in border areas.
Ongoing clashes with ethnic Kokang rebels in Myanmar's northeast, close to China, has killed hundreds of government troops and caused tension with neighboring China after stray shells reportedly fell into China and killed 5 people.